“When You’re Burned Out, Wounded and Overwhelmed”
By Dr. Gregory R. Frizzell ©
When Paul Pickern so graciously asked me to write some articles for All Pro Pastors International, I was deeply humbled and honored. Having just written a research book on pastor’s prayer meetings, I have thoroughly studied today’s global ministries to pastors. There is absolutely no group as crucial as pastors and no ministry more powerful than All Pro Pastors International. They even have a ministry to pray for pastors which I strongly encourage pastors to use.
Because pastors are facing unprecedented pressures, I sense this introductory article should be a testimony of encouragement and practical help. It is the story of how God’s grace transformed my life and ministry at a time of devastating difficulty and impossibility. My earnest hope is that our experience of God’s grace and deliverance will be an encouragement to pastors today. Absolutely nothing is more important than encouraging and strengthening the Lord’s shepherds. Pastors are the enemy’s primary target and God’s primary means for spreading Christ’s kingdom. They and their churches are the spiritual soul and fate of our nation and world. Loving and uplifting pastors is a burning passion of my heart.
Having been blessed to work with persecuted underground pastors, I have witnessed how God gives incredible joy and power in even the darkest places. In today’s intense conditions, it is crucial for pastors to have a joy, passion and power that is truly of the Holy Spirit, not circumstances. We are now far past what academics, personality and programs alone can overcome. But while the early Church and Christian reformers faced even worse challenges than most today, they totally transformed their world for Christ. We too can trust in the risen Lord Who is “the same yesterday, today and forever!” (Hebrews 13:8) I pray this testimony brings glory to God and fresh hope to pastors and their churches.
A Story of God’s Grace in the Fire
“Be Careful What You Pray For”
We often hear the half-joking phrase, “be careful about praying for patience because you know how you get it.” While of course we definitely should pray for this important grace, it is among the more challenging of the spiritual fruits. Shortly after graduation from seminary in 1983, I unwittingly discovered another somewhat risky prayer. It was when I prayed “Lord give me some good experience for growth in ministry.” Well, the Lord definitely answered that prayer, though a lot different than I expected.
Just as I was considering a call to pastor a church with strong growth potential, I got a call from another church. It was to be the Associate Pastor/Minister of Evangelism in a church in a very high crime, declining area. Then shortly after they contacted me, the TV news erupted with a catastrophic scandal involving sex abuse allegations about their church run daycare. In that day, such a thing was virtually unheard of. There was devastating publicity on every TV station and newspaper for a six state radius. I thought “phew,” I am so glad I didn’t go there!
But surprisingly, the embattled church still wanted to proceed in trying to fill their staff position. They asked me if I would at least please pray about coming to be their Associate Pastor of Evangelism. Of course in my most spiritual voice, I told them, “Oh yes, I’ll pray about it.” Frankly, I thought to myself, that’s an easy one — I’m not going into a situation like that. No way! I just knew the Lord would surely have me to go to the much easier church where I could quickly reach more people. But when I actually prayed about it, the Lord definitely led me to go to the church in the intense battle. I wish I could say I was perfectly brave and noble, but I had some very deep concerns. I even told the Lord of many perfectly logical reasons why I shouldn’t go. But somehow, He just wasn’t buying my human reasoning. So, I told the church that I would come.
Ominously, even before I arrived on the church field more allegations erupted and soon brought additional arrests. Legal bills were exploding to shocking levels on top of a major church building debt. The surrounding community was hit with a shocking new crime wave and an even greater stream of people began moving away. But unbelievably, circumstances were about to get even much more intense. After just a few months as associate pastor, the responsibility to become their pastor suddenly fell to me. Though conditions seemed hopeless, the Lord was about to teach me that nothing is too hard for Him. But, it would require me to learn some lessons I really thought I already knew. It would also take five years of almost indescribable pain and battle.
Coming to the End of Our Own Strength
As the church entered into a continuous five year nightmare, the circumstances were far worse than I could ever describe in any article. In the first three years, the battles were so intense my life was actually threatened for trying to help “that” church. A seminary professor told me in forty years of teaching, he had never heard of anything so extreme. He said, it was essentially the “Chernobyl” of the church world. (Not exactly a title you desire.) Yet, the core people of the church truly loved their Lord, their church and their inexperienced young pastor. I owe those dear people an eternal debt of gratitude.
So for five years, we aggressively used the best evangelism, discipleship and growth programs in existence. I sought to faithfully preach the whole counsel of Scripture and we even had weekly church prayer meetings. Toward the end of the fifth year, church decline was bad enough that things were getting really desperate. As a last ditch effort we conducted a massive community-wide visitation campaign to over five thousand households. But with a rapidly declining community and constant negative news coverage, the church continued downward. Even after all of the intense efforts, we were seeing few people saved, rising disunity, very few visitors and continuing decline. Five years earlier we were four to five hundred in attendance, but had dropped to well less than two hundred and fifty.
The church was increasingly discouraged and so was their pastor. Though I could still preach and put on a fairly good face, I was seriously burned out, wounded and dry. I also began to deal with some painful ongoing health issues. Yet, I personally knew some persecuted believers who had incredible joy and evangelistic power in some of the darkest regions of earth. I also realized the early Church and Christian reformers had great joy and power even in the face of horrific torture and martyrdom. So I knew greater strength, joy and closeness with Jesus were definitely possible. Then what was wrong with me? I felt great condemnation and failure over my strong feelings of doubt, frustration and weakness. At that point, I seriously considered leaving the ministry. I actually took the air traffic controller test and passed with a high score. It was God’s grace alone that kept me from leaving. Once I committed to stay, the Lord gave me peace He would do something that would one day encourage other pastors in days of intense battles. With pandemics and growing persecutions, such days are now a reality for millions.
Three Life-Changing Revelations
As I sought the Lord for greater closeness, joy and power, He led me to do a very deep study of John 15:4-16, 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Acts 1:4-8, 4:29-34, 5:41 and James 5:16-18. In these texts, it became clear that abundant spiritual fruit and Spirit-empowerment flow only from deep closeness with Jesus, fervent prayer and full yieldedness of heart. As I further researched the leaders of great awakenings and persecuted believers, the Lord opened my eyes to three specific points of inadequacy in my walk with Christ. Though by today’s rushed patterns my prayer life might have seemed above average, it was definitely not sufficient by God’s standards in Scripture and historic awakenings. The Lord graciously helped me see three missing elements that ultimately made a vast difference in my life and church. I pray these insights will help fellow pastors as much as they transformed me.
First, I realized I was focusing so much on God’s love, I was neglecting the reverential fear of His holiness. As a result, I had settled for using some popular heart cleansing/surrender guides that were simply not complete enough to bring specific yielding in all key areas of sin and self. (Psalm 139:23-24; 2 Corinthians 7:1) The Lord helped me see that there were actually around seven areas I needed to yield fully and consistently. (Most cleansing/growth guides deal with only four or five general areas.) I also saw that full surrender to Jesus had to involve a continual yielding of “self, weights of hindrance and heart idols,” not just sin. (Matthew 16:24; Hebrews 12:1-2) I was discovering that Jesus wanted to be Lord of even our motives and secret thoughts. And while of course we are all very much a work in progress, we do have to at least be in serious, intentional progress.
I began to realize being “under grace” in no way meant I could marginalize ever-deeper growth and surrender. If the Apostle Paul needed to continually “press toward the mark” and “perfect holiness in the fear of God,” I surely needed it all the more! But I really didn’t have a clear enough handle on how to walk in that. The Lord was revealing that I needed to more fully revere His awesome holiness. After much prayer and study, the Lord led me to develop a seven category pattern of Scripture to pray through. There were twelve to fourteen Scriptures and issues for each major category. Bear in mind, this was to be a process prayed through over several days, not at one prayer time. It was to be a grace relationship of love and surrender, not a legalistic guilt trip.
Second, the Lord helped me recognize that my personal time in His word and prayer was stopping short of the relational abiding in Christ described in Scripture. (John 15:4-16) I realized many quiet time models either left out or marginalized two or three essential biblical elements of full surrender and empowerment in Christ. Many prayer patterns stopped at general confession (with little emphasis on specific repentance.) Most models further omitted any intentional time to meditate on God’s word and truly listen to His voice.
I also noticed many devotional patterns tended to focus more on personal desires and needs than God’s kingdom and righteousness. They were kind of a reverse of Matthew 6:33. More importantly, I sensed God wanted me to view time in His word and prayer more as truly experiencing a relationship than just doing my prayer and Bible reading. Though the changes did require some additional time, it wasn’t exorbitant, undoable or legalistic. Over the next several weeks I began to experience a major difference in closeness with Jesus.
Third, the Lord helped me more fully understand that all true growth and power flow solely from His grace and Holy Spirit-empowerment, not legalism or religious works. (Galatians 3:1-3, 5:16; Ephesians 2:8-9, 5:18) I knew as I embraced the deeper cleansing and yielding, I had to stay focused on my full acceptance by God’s grace in Christ. It was so freeing to realize God doesn’t convict His children to condemn, but to transform us by His grace and Spirit. So rather than dreading deeper cleansing and yielding, I knew I was to desire it out of love for Christ. (1 John 3:3, 5:3) So with these three biblical principles firmly in my mind, I began a twelve week focused journey of deeper surrender and more complete time in God’s word and prayer. It was the beginning of a relationship journey that would utterly transform my life, ministry and church!
A Wounded, Weary Pastor Renewed and Empowered
During the first few weeks, I slowly prayed through all seven key areas of cleansing and surrender. Those specific areas were: thoughts/heart focus, attitudes, words/social media, all relationships, sins of transgression, sins omission, yielding of self /weights and heart idols. Soon, a much greater revelation of God’s holiness gripped my heart. As the Lord brought deeper brokenness and godly sorrow, a reverential fear of the Lord became much more real. Over just those first weeks, the Lord revealed no less than eleven specific areas for confession, repentance and deeper surrender.
Several issues were things I had no idea were hindering God’s Spirit (i.e. confession without repentance, selfish motives, secret thoughts, people I had not fully forgiven, prideful ambition, desiring the praise of men, self-preservation, etc.) I found when I truly allowed the Lord to deeply search all areas, I saw things I would never have seen with the more brief, general patterns. But praise God, it was about grace, growth and empowerment, not condemnation and guilt! Above all, it was about embracing the life-long journey to ever-more fully know, love and revere the Lord. (John 17:3; Matthew 22:37; Ecclesiastes 12:13)
By the end of about nine weeks, I was becoming a very different person. Though many situations at the church were actually worse and my physical condition more painful, God gave me a joy and peace unlike anything I had ever known. He was teaching me that my peace, joy and love had to be in Jesus alone, not my personal, family or ministry circumstances. Though I have certainly had to re-learn and grow in that truth many times since, it was a huge turning point. My preaching was empowered like never before and God’s word came much more alive to me. Before long, the Lord was revealing some powerful new insights to help my beleaguered church.
Two Essential Principles of Spiritual Power
While I still had (and have) plenty of battles, pain and need for growth, God was opening my eyes to two key principles. First — it is impossible to experience full New Testament-type joy, power and intimacy with Christ without New Testament-type prayer and surrender to Christ’s Lordship. Second — we will never be any more full of the Holy Spirit, than we are willing to be daily emptied of both sin and self. While we experience it all by trusting in God’s grace and Spirit, we must nonetheless choose the continuous growth and yielding. There really isn’t a short cut and none of us ever outgrow the need to be perfecting holiness in both the love and reverence of God. (John 15:9-13; Philippians 2:12-13, 3:10-14) The Lord wants none of us to be in a spiritual coast mode.
As busy pastors, it can be easy to overlook this need and casually assume “oh yes, I’m already doing the cleansing and yielding.” Yet, we may unwittingly be doing a watered-down version rather than one of full biblical completeness and depth. That had definitely happened to me but I didn’t realize it. The truth is, the Lord wants to be taking all of us ever-deeper. No matter how long we’ve served God, there is always more to know of Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14) In the many verses describing believers’ call to ever-deeper holiness and prayer, there is absolutely no hint that we can be casual or unintentional. (2 Corinthians 7:1; Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 12:14) But thank God, His grace and love are with us every step! Growing in Holiness is not a walk of condemnation, legalism or works that we have to endure. Rather, it is a relationship of grace we get to experience for God’s glory! (John 15:9; 1 John 5:3)
A Broken Church Revived and Empowered
As the Lord was transforming my own life, He then revealed the following two truths about my role as pastor. (1) It is impossible for believers to know, love and revere God fully if pastors do not clearly teach both His love and holiness. (2) It is impossible for churches to function in New Testament-type joy and power if pastors do not clearly teach and consistently call them to New Testament-type prayer and surrender. I realized that if I said (or implied) that a brief little devotion is all believers need, then that is all they will likely do. (And most won’t even do that.) In that moment, I knew what God wanted me to teach and preach for the next six months. So using the key Scriptures that had so transformed my life, I taught the more complete biblical patterns of abiding in Christ by His word, prayer and surrender.
First, I started by teaching my members to embrace more complete biblical times in daily prayer and Scripture. Though I was not asking that my peoples’ quiet times be unduly long, they would experience a pattern for deeper surrender, closer listening to God’s voice and prayer that was more Spirit-empowered. The goal was for their time in Scripture and prayer to be more a dialogue of talking and listening to God through His word. So for a few weeks, a core minority of my church transformed their patterns of personal prayer and Scripture. They would also seek to meditate, listen and apply God’s word, not just read it.
Second, I taught my people the seven element pattern for ongoing deep yielding of sin and self. While it was not some magic formula, it did provide a clearer biblical mark toward which we are all to be pressing continually. Indeed, how can people fully yield and daily “press toward the mark” if they really don’t have one that is clear and practical?
We also discovered that the seven elements of cleansings and growth were very practical for ongoing daily use (after the initial deeper focused cleansing.) By being seven categories, a believer could easily focus on one different life area each day. In that pattern, believers freshly surrender and grow in all key areas of life each week. Though it’s certainly not a magic formula, I have never found a better way to help believers continually “press toward the mark” and “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” And for sure, none of us will ever outgrow the seven biblical areas of cleansing and growth.
All God Needs is a Dedicated Remnant
As any pastor surely knows, it is usually just a small minority that will embrace deepest commitment to holiness and prayer. For my first few years of pastoring, I was much troubled that a majority of people seemed somewhat lukewarm about deeper prayer, repentance and soul winning. It was freeing when God revealed to me that He begins His deep working through a dedicated remnant, not the lukewarm majority. Leaders if we are not careful, it is easy to spend so much time catering to the majority, we fail to take the remnant to true New Testament depth and power.
While in my church it was only a remnant that responded to the call to deeper quiet times and surrender, I focused on deepening that remnant. And what God did through that small minority was phenomenal! Within about three months, some of my people were definitely praying both alone (and together) on a new level. The Lord was changing both our personal and corporate prayer patterns. And while answers to prayer often come quite slowly and gradually, in our particularly desperate need the Lord moved with merciful swiftness and power.
Though we had tried all the best growth programs and visited over 5,000 households in six weeks, the church was steadily declining. Yet as people began to pray on a deeper level, the Lord led several to pray specifically that He would “send laborers” into our church body. Some of us sensed God had given a promise from Matthew 9:37-38. Miraculously after a few weeks, several people just suddenly started visiting our church. And this was right in the middle of horrific publicity and a rapidly declining area.
The first Sunday when about seven walked the aisle to join our church, it was like a Red Sea miracle. In fact when the first ones came down the aisle to join, I almost felt like saying, “What do you want?” (I was so out of practice!) And as many more people joined in coming weeks, several literally said, “We want to go to work for God.” Just as He promised, the Lord was sending laborers and tithers into our struggling church! In truth, I think some of my people had more faith than their pastor. While answers to prayer definitely don’t always come fast, the effectual, fervent prayers of yielded hearts still avail much!
A New Passion and Power For Soul Winning
One crucial change was the difference that came to some marriages and family relationships. We also saw some remarkable healing in broken and strained relationships between church members. But an especially powerful change was a new passion to intercede and witness to lost people. Those who had gone deeper in prayer were definitely praying with greater effectiveness, fervency, faith and power. One particularly quiet shy woman began to fast and pray for thirty lost people. And though she had never before led anyone to Christ, she actually went to witness to most of the people on her list. Within six months, I baptized twenty-one of her thirty! For those months, the Lord probably used that unassuming little praying lady more than anyone. But the answers were just beginning.
Though our church had been praying for about sixty lost people for five years, only a very few had been saved. And as people began to pray with much greater power and faith, we saw forty-five of the sixty saved and baptized within nine months! One of our men began fasting and praying for a co-worker who was notoriously rough and violent. That rough co-worker was among those who were gloriously saved and became one of our most faithful witnesses for Jesus.
A Sunday School teacher had long been praying for a son who was drifting. For years there was no change except for the worse. But as her closeness and surrender went to another level, she said “my prayers are just different now. I truly believe God has shown me my son will be saved and become a minister.” A few weeks later, that young man gave his life to Christ. And you guessed it, for many years now he has been an ordained minister in Middle Tennessee.
Deeper Unity and Healed Relationships
As God’s moving increased, many church members at last saw wayward children restored, spouses saved and relationships healed. And though our people still didn’t all enjoy the same worship style or agree on all issues, God gave us a stronger love and unity anyway. And finally the legal and financial answers began to happen.
After five years of an intense legal battle, the Lord brought full court vindication and victory for the church and people acquitted. But then we needed another miracle. We faced over-whelming debt from over five years of legal fees. Once again through intense united prayer, God graciously moved and saved the church. The Lord led eight kind-hearted attorneys to forgive the church close to a million dollar debt. And one of those attorneys came to Jesus!
Dear pastors, while answers definitely don’t always come quick, God can yet move in even the darkest places and times. But, it still requires the effectual, fervent prayers of yielded hearts. (James 5:16) Regardless of new theories, programs, academics or strategies, these can never replace true heart-yieldedness and powerful united prayer. Yet if we are not careful, we can easily wind up placing greater focus and time on everything in the world except the one thing that brings full New Testament power. (Mark 11:17; Acts 1:8; James 5:16-18) And while it is certainly not the intent, a subtle form of spiritual inoculation creeps into our lives and churches. In “inoculation” we embrace a weakened version of something that keeps us from getting the real thing. There is little question this is a major unrecognized hindrance for countless busy leaders and churches.
Overcoming Today’s Spiritual Desensitization and Inoculation
Sadly, many well-meaning believers have unwittingly embraced prayer and surrender patterns that stop short of true biblical abiding in Christ’s fullness and power. Given society’s saturation with impurity and materialism, believers can also become “desensitized” to some common daily patterns that are seriously hindering God’s Spirit. And when the Spirit is hindered, believers are much more vulnerable to marriage and parenting failures. Because we live in a day when so few have seen true biblical revival and awakening, it is easy to become so accustomed to sub-normal patterns, we can begin to think that is all there is. We then fall into the unconscious trap of “measuring ourselves by ourselves” rather than God’s word and Spirit. (2 Corinthians 10:12) There is an important truth in a statement by late revivalist Manley Beasley. “We will generally have about as much of God as we’re willing to settle for.” (Jeremiah 29:13; Hebrews 11:6)
Though today is a sound-bite, cliffs-notes type society, fullest New Testament power and closeness just don’t come from sound-bite prayers and surface confession. Because of well-meaning efforts to give people something brief and simple, believers can quite easily get stuck in below average (or shallow) patterns. Thus with many, their spiritual life is a lot like trying to drive a car at Interstate speeds in first gear. No matter how hard someone might try, no one can travel seventy miles per hour in first gear.
Given the prevalence of overly-quick, surface devotions, it is a virtual certainly that many are experiencing an unintended form of “spiritual inoculation.” While believers will surely experience some joy and strength, it is often not the rivers of living water and powerful prayer Jesus intends for His people. (John 7:38; Mark 11:22-24; James 5:16) When people embrace weakened versions of prayer and surrender, they are hindered from experiencing the full reality of Christ’s fullness and power.
It is crucial for believers to realize there really is a major difference between a little devotional moment and God-seeking, heart yielding prayer times. And though believers may be filled with all kinds of intellectual Bible knowledge, doctrines and new methods, one thing is certain. None of us will ever rise spiritually above the height of our personal prayer life and depth of our heart surrender and closeness to Christ. (John 15:4-13; James 5:16) Yet by God’s great grace, deeper surrender and fullness are definitely not out of reach for even the busiest believers and pastors!
A Word of Grace and Hope for Pastors
In writing this testimony of my first church, I pray one thing is clear. All of the transformation was solely by the incredible grace, mercy and power of God. It certainly wasn’t some eloquent, impressive pastor because they didn’t have one. Though we aggressively tried all the programs and strategies of the day, they were not what turned the tide. And while we certainly “said” a lot of prayers, during the first five years, most were not quite the “effectual, fervent prayers of the righteous that avail much.” But in His marvelous grace, the Lord helped us see that James 5:16 has an opposite truth it is all-too easy to ignore.
Just as the “effectual, fervent prayers of the righteous avails much,” the ineffective, casual prayers of the unyielded avail little. This is almost surely a major reason so many have been “praying for revival” and so few churches have actually seen it. The Bible is clear that just “saying” voluminous prayers does not mean they are necessarily powerful. (Isaiah 58:1-6, 59:1-2) In His grace, the Lord was showing our church that prayers and surrender needed to go higher. Yet with some fairly simple and practical biblical adjustments, the Lord helped a broken, discouraged people move more into the flow of His grace and power. And though we were far from perfect, the Lord did a “surprising work of grace.” If He could move in a setting like ours, there is surely hope for those who now read these words.
More each day, my fervent prayer is to encourage and help pastors in the fiery assaults they now face from every angle. And I very much write as a fellow learner, not some exalted lecturer of others. In sharing my testimony of God’s grace in a broken church, I am mindful of the importance of accuracy and balance. So to be clear, I am definitely not suggesting God led us to some magic formula that guarantees quick answers and continuous growth. The precise timing and number of how God moves is always in His hands, not ours. Neither am I implying if we just pray and surrender enough, everything will be rosy and we’ll see miracles by the minute. That is definitely not the case. We still live in earthen vessels of flesh with persecutions and spiritual warfare ever-increasing. Yet as we cast ourselves on God’s grace, there is great hope in His mercy and strength. The Lord Jesus has not lost His power and can still do “surprising works of grace!”
Christ’s Great Desire to Strengthen Pastors
Above all else, I pray this article brings encouragement and hope to fellow soldiers of the cross. The last thing I desire is for any pastor to feel condemned or discouraged about their difficult settings or lack of growth numbers. Thank the Lord, He does not judge us by church size or growth patterns. In some cases, church members just will not respond to serious calls to deeper prayer and surrender. All we can do is faithfully seek to encourage and equip. The response is ultimately up to them. I am further convinced some of the greatest eternal rewards may well go to pastors who were never called to write a book or privileged to see explosive growth. God most rewards the faithfulness, humility and purity with which we serve in our own appointed places. In fact, among God’s greatest heroes of faith are some of our bi-vocational pastors. Though they may be called “part-time,” there is nothing part-time about the hearts and ministries of so many.
It is also true that some of God’s greatest pastors have at one time or another been viciously attacked, fired, falsely scandalized or abandoned. (Some examples are the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, etc.) Obviously, none of these were failures! And sometimes, it is the next pastor that gets to see the church grow. Our call there was to plow and deal with hindrances. That too is surely no failure. In truth, plowing and sowing are often harder than reaping. But remember, our gracious Lord definitely notices and rewards “degree of difficulty and sacrifice.” (Mark 12:41-44)
And pastors, even when we have totally blown it and it is all our fault, remember the ignominious failures of several leaders in the Bible. Yet, the Lord still loved them and used many again! Even as I write these words, I have a sense some readers need the encouraging message of Psalm 24:16. “Though a righteous man fall seven times, he will get up.” If the Lord still loved and used Peter, there is hope for us. So please don’t stay down dear pastor! Great are the Lord’s compassions and His mercies are new each morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) And for pastors who may think “I’m just too far along in my ministry for major changes, God can still restore years locusts have eaten. And think of the key “old men” God picked and used in Scripture. I have seen several ministers of advanced years, experience a remarkable new work of grace.
As shepherds, the most crucial thing any of us can do is make sure we are truly abiding in the fervent prayer and surrender the New Testament describes. Sadly, I must confess there have been times since those early ministry years when I drifted back into what I call the “Martha Syndrome.” (Luke 10:38) And it always negatively impacted my life, family and church. This happens to us when (like well-meaning Martha), we get so busy trying to work for Christ and people, we don’t spend enough time with Him in prayer and total heart surrender. And just like Martha, we inevitably end up frustrated, vulnerable and spiritually powerless. The Lord is always as much (or more) concerned with our relationship with Him and what we are than just going through the outward actions of ministry. All of our works will be judged by what “sort” they are. (1 Corinthians 3:13)
Avoiding the “Martha Syndrome”
Modern Pastors’ Most Subtle Risk
Pastors, whether we are contemporary or traditional, reform or non-reform, charismatic or non-charismatic, the foundations of biblical prayer and surrender are equally non-negotiable for us all. If we are not mindful, the ministry itself can become as something of a false idol and mistress we place above closeness and full surrender to Christ Himself. The Lord is a jealous God who is grieved by over-focus or reliance on anything more than closeness and first love passion for Jesus. For Abraham, the key turning point was when God asked Him to sacrifice Isaac, his greatest love and promise. Pastors if we let them, even “blessings, ministry and outward success” can become heart idols that come ahead of God Himself. But thank the Lord, He is willing to renew us afresh if were turn to Him with all our hearts. (Zechariah 1:3)
Another vital key is for pastors to pray together and be partners, not competitors. That is why ministries like AllProPastors are so crucial. Absolutely none of us are designed to function as lone rangers! (And it would be arrogant to think that we are.) Frankly, I don’t believe I would have made it without a few special pastors who truly be-friended me. I would likely not be alive except for the personal friendship and prayers of Henry Blackably and T. W. Hunt. So as important as are activities, education and innovative programs, they can never replace powerful personal and united prayer with others.
There is actually one sense in which today’s unpresented explosion of education, innovative methods, ready-made sermons and strategies can become a subtle risk. It is the risk of emphasizing and relying more on these than on deep surrender, prayer and Holy Spirit-empowerment. Many pastors are even tricked into thinking “it is alright if my prayer life is kind of average because my main strength is preaching, pastoring, administration, or vision casting.” This is surely among Satan’s most damaging deceptions for today’s shepherds.
Distractions Bring Powerlessness and Vulnerability
Beyond question, too little time in prayer and surrender leaves pastors vulnerable to pornography, wrong relationships, and all other pitfalls. Fervent prayer also makes a huge difference in withstanding today’s unprecedented pressures upon marriage and parenting. The problem with the “prayer is not my main strength mindset” is that it is the exact opposite of the example and teaching of Jesus, the Apostles and virtually all leaders of historic awakenings. Since fervent prayer and surrender were definitely their priority practices, so too they must be ours! To do less is to do without God’s fullest anointing and power. Regardless of what some may think, we do not have a plan that is better than God’s.
After nearly four decades of researching historic awakenings and missions movements, it has never been more clear that fullest New Testament power and awakening must start with deeply cleansed, revived pastors. (Joel 2:17; Malachi 3:2-4; Acts 6:4; 2 Corinthians 7:1) As few before, our generation must re-learn the essential principle of the apostle Paul. Though he was a brilliant man of learning, he did not rely on high learning, leadership persona or persuasive words of men. His primary reliance was on the “demonstration of the Spirit and power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-4) He summed it best when he wrote, “The kingdom of God is not in word (or talk), but in (spiritual) power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20) Regardless of the excellent new tools we are blessed to use, New Testament-type power still requires New Testament-type prayer, surrender and Spirit-empowerment. (Zechariah 4:6)
The Testimony From Then to Now
Though my first church never again saw quite the numbers of that initial strong move, God continued to do extraordinary things through deeper prayer and surrender. While we had little extra money, the Lord birthed a multi-state radio ministry and book distribution that ultimately went into many languages. Indeed, all that God has done in my life since, began from His grace in the faithful people of my first church. I will never forget their commitment. Then five years later in 1994, I contracted a devastating case of Lymes disease which was improperly diagnosed and treated. The illness did significant long-term damage. My doctor said I would likely need to go on disability as intense writing, preaching and missions travel would be difficult if not impossible.
As I prayed over this, I was begging God to heal me. And while in many cases He will heal, the Lord spoke through 2 Corinthians 12:9. It was where the Apostle Paul was begging God to deliver him from an incredibly painful thorn. But, the Lord told him “no.” He promised sufficient grace to give Him power in midst of pain and weakness. While I definitely did not want to hear that answer, I knew God could bring greater strength and fruit out of pain. So rather than healing, the Lord’s answer was to call me to still deeper levels of prayer and surrender. (And the truth is, we can always go deeper.) And though at that time I had never written an actual book, the Lord promised grace to write multiple books and spread them over key mission fields worldwide. In spite of many disappointments, battles, discouragements and struggles, God has been faithful to His word!
While, I have lived with pain and periodic bouts of extreme fatigue since 1994, there are now over forty books and resources on many mission fields. Solely by God’s hand, at least one book is printed in more than forty languages. And though doctors said extensive travel would be near impossible, the Lord has sent me nearly three million miles conducting over a thousand church and pastor renewal conferences.
God’s Strength in Our Impossibilities
Though better circumstances and healing can surely bring God glory, His grace can also be very real in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:10) If we walk in trust, His grace and joy are stronger than our circumstances. Though I have seen God’s gracious hand in forty years of ministry, I think the greatest joy is seeing the Lord work in prayer/renewal conferences in churches and pastors groups. The joy is actually seeing Christ’s shepherds and people face to face. For churches, our primary conference has been Going Deeper With God. With pastor groups, it is Principles of New Testament, Great Awakening-Type Ministry. And especially when ministering among persecuted underground pastors and churches, I have undoubtedly learned far more from them than they learned from me.
Because my heart passion is to help pastors and churches, I close this article with a mention of two practical books. The two Scripture-filled books are: How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life and Returning to Holiness, or its later version, Return to Me Says the Lord. The book, Return to Me has appendices that are practical tools for effective daily prayer, full surrender and evangelistic intercession.
As readers might guess, these are the books God birthed from His gracious movement in my first church. The studies are specifically designed to raise believers’ level of prayer and deepen their surrender to Christ’s Lordship. They are about deeper intimacy, joy and power in Jesus. Above all, the studies are about glorifying God’s name and spreading Christ’s kingdom. The books are encouraging and practical for individual, small groups or church-wide growth and renewal. By God’s grace, people have donated nearly two million of these books in strategic mission fields.
In the US and Canada, we sell books for reasonable prices to make it easy for churches to use. The books can be obtained at www.frizzellministries.org for those in North America and Canada. Just go to our website and click on the “Ordering Resources” tab to find the particular books. For those outside North America, go to http://masterdesign.org/frizzellspecial.html. (Some of our other books are distributed only in the mission countries and are therefore not available on our website.)If I can help with information about a book or conference, it would be my deepest joy. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As today’s darkness and persecution intensify, may God encourage, guide and protect all of His shepherds. It is and shall always be the most important calling on earth! As go pastors, so goes our churches. And as go our churches, so goes our cities, nations and the world. Let us determine to ever-abide in Christ and His word in us. In Him, we can “ask whatever we will, walk in joy and bear much fruit to the glory of God’s name!” (John 15:4-13)
To the Glory of God and Christ,
Dr. Gregory Frizzell is the founder and president of Gregory Frizzell Prayer and Renewal Ministries, Inc. He served fifteen years as the Prayer & Spiritual Awakening Specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and North American Mission Board. He has served as a pastor for 20 years, and is a well-known author and conference leader, both nationally and internationally. In America and other nations, Dr. Frizzell has conducted over a thousand prayer and region-wide renewal conferences in some of world’s largest churches.
Dr. Frizzell has written over 40 books and hundreds of published articles on prayer, church renewal, evangelism, leadership and spiritual awakening. His book, Returning to Holiness, has been translated into forty languages and is approaching two million copies. Dr. Frizzell served as an appointed missionary with the North American Mission Board. His responsibilities included church and region-wide prayer and renewal. He also hosted three multi-state radio programs and founded a prison ministry.
Dr. Frizzell holds a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Seminary and a Doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. His burning heart passion is to see believers strengthened, churches revived, evangelism explode and God alone receive glory and praise! In 2016, Gregory Frizzell Prayer and Renewal Ministries, Inc. has embrace Global Missions/Revival Initiative. This initiative targets 300,000 pastors for spiritual awakening and sweeping evangelism in strategic nations.